about writing a story
is different and that means that everyone is going to need to write a
story in a different way. You have to discover how you need to
do it. There is no easy way. You can only discover how to by doing
it. These hints are to help you find your own way.
Most teachers will tell you that you need to make a careful plan of
your story before you start. This is because most teachers do not
write stories. Professional writers divide into four different ways:
who do make a careful plan. These are the rarest.
Even writers who write detective stories often only have jotted
notes about what order the clues come in. You do a careful plan if
it makes you feel safe. Otherwise try one of the other ways.
realistic writers. These writers have little cards
written out with descriptions and past histories of all the people
they might want in the story, and the same for all the places. This
is quite a good way to work, because the story often falls into
place in your head while you are discovering the things on the
cards. But it takes a long time, though it can be fun. You will
often find you have far more information on the cards than you will
ever get into the story, and if this is so DON'T try and get it all
in. You will drown your story.
to front and inside out writers. These writers start by
writing Chapter Eleven and then Chapter Twenty. Sometimes they have
no idea what the story is and have to put the chapters away until
they see what the story is that they fit into. A writer called Joyce
Carey had a whole chest of drawers filled with chapters of books
that he never got round to finishing. When he did write a book, it
always started this way, with a chapter from the middle. I sometimes
work this way, but I warn you, it takes a very clear head to sort it
out in the end. It is a good way to get started, however.
Way. If you're the kind of person who gets stuck writing
a story, try this. When I start writing a book, I know the beginning
and what probably happens at the end, plus a tiny but extremely
bright picture of something going on in the middle. Often this tiny
picture is so different from the beginning that I get really excited
trying to think how they got from the start to there. This is the
way to get a story moving, because I can't wait to find out. And by
not planning it any more than that I leave space for the story to go
in unexpected ways. Sometimes things happen that I never would have
thought of, just because the story wants them to happen.
THING is that you should ENJOY making up your story. If it bores you,
stop and try something else.
To start, you have to have an idea. I can't help you there. Whatever
idea you have, and everyone has ideas, it has to be something that
really grabs you. Think of the thing that excites you in a story and
the kind of thing you most like to read and take it from there. One
part of it is going to make you much more excited than the rest. To
get started, try to begin as near to the exciting bit as
possible. That way, you will want to go on. You can do the rest as
flashbacks, or change the middle to the beginning afterwards. Above
all don't try to write something you think you ought to write.
think of DON'T make it too neat. Stories need loose ends to move. A
girl wrote to me once that she could only get to Chapter One of her
book. She had two sets of identical twins who lived on two identical
small islands and they had both discovered buried treasure. It was not
surprising she was stuck. It was just too neat.
The places your story happens in are very important. For instance, if
you want to write about a vampire, you might want him stalking someone
in a narrow street by the docks. Or you might want him to attack at a
picnic in the country. These would be quite different stories. A lot
of people worry about having to describe places, but there is no need
to worry at all. What you have to do is to SEE the place where this
part of the story is happening, in your mind, as if you were there
yourself. By the docks, you would see the shapes of the houses and
sheds, and the stone or wood they were built of, and seagulls and
boats and machines, and the paving you were walking on. At the picnic,
you would see the grass and the insects and the shapes of the trees
and the hills, and exactly where each person was sitting
around the food. Then you simply write what happens. You don't need to
describe. It will come over as you tell it. You could ask someone to
do a drawing and they would draw it just as you had seen it. Promise.
People are even more important. They are the ones that make the story
happen. You have to SEE them even more clearly than places. You have
to know the shape of them and if their breath smells and how their
hair grows. In fact, you have to know twice as much as you put in the
story. Sit and think and SEE them before you start. And HEAR them too.
Everyone has their own special way of talking. Make them talk like
they should - and do remember that people don't talk proper sentences
and that they shout or they mumble, and try to get them doing this. If
you have trouble, put a real person in your story. If you have an Aunt
May or an Uncle Joe whom you don't much like, use them as the vampires
and they will come out wonderfully real. You won't need to describe
them, just do the way they talk and move. (You don't need to tell your
auntie or your uncle either).
Some people get stiff and unhappy writing because they think they
can't manage to write how it feels to have an adventure, or to
be in the middle of very fast, exciting action. This is nonsense.
Everyone knows. What you have to do, if you are stuck this way is to
stop thinking in words and then shut your eyes and think how
it would be if you were the one having the adventure, falling
down the cliff or being attacked by a vampire, or whatever. You'll
know at once. Then you simply put down what you know. It may come out
queer, but queer is good where actions and feelings are concerned.
It is important to know you can finish a story, so you should
if possible. Just bash on and do it. Endings are not easy. I find them
the hardest part. You don't know whether to stop with everyone just at
the end of the adventure, and not knowing what really happened to
Aunty May or Uncle Joe, or to make sure that the right people are
going to be happy and the wrong people not, or even whether to go on
and tell what happens in the next twenty years. This is really up to
you. If you want to know what happens in the rest of the lifetimes of
your people, go ahead and find out and put it down. If you think
you've done when you've got a stake driven through Uncle Joe's heart,
then stop there. My feeling is that the best stories leave the reader
trying to imagine what happened after the story stopped, but that is
only one opinion.
it all over again
If you want to make your story as good as you can get it, you have to
go over it and get it right. Professional writers never write
a book just once. They do a second or even a third rewriting. Even if
you don't have time for that, you must go over it for bits that have
gone wrong (if you know you're going to do this, you can get on with
the story the first time round and simply promise yourself that the
bit that went wrong will be put right later).
First, you must
read your story AS IF YOU HAD NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE. Yes, this is
difficult. You are going to read and admire all the bits you like
instead. But, while you admire, you will come across bits that make
you sort of squiggle inside and say "Oh, I suppose that will do".
That is a sure sign that it won't do.
think hard about these bits, what is wrong with them and how they
ought to go to be right. If the wrong bit is supposed to be funny,
think hardest of all. Funny bits have to have exactly the right words,
or they are like jokes where someone had forgotten the punchline. But
even serious bits can be like that too, if you get them wrong. If you
think hard enough, your story will be MUCH better.
it a title
Sometimes this is harder than writing the ending. You have only a few
words for the title; you don't want the same title as someone else;
you want to say what the story is about, but not give it away; and you
want to make people interested enough to read it. You probably want a
snappy title. Difficult. If you are very lucky, you will have thought
of the title before you wrote the story. Then you have to make sure it
still fits when the story is finished. It sometimes takes me six weeks
to find a title. I hope you have better luck. Good luck. Enjoy
of Diana Wynne Jones
Writers in Residence